But it sounds empowering, doesn't it? I mean, who wouldn't want to assume the position of control it implies on the part of the person who employs it? You can play banker with another's sincerity: John Doe deposits some effort, you let it gain some interest in your mind, and after his efforts clear the mandatory security time, you can allow John Doe a withdrawal -- a pittance of respect from the power that presides over the relationship.
It's an artful scenario, really. If you enjoy the insular security of narcissism, that is.
In reality, however -- that place where people (hopefully) think through trite platitudes -- respect is given, not earned. But how can we give respect if we're not receiving it? Legitimate question. Simplest answer? We're not playing follow-the-leader when it comes to respect. If you're willing to treat others with respect -- that is, give them respect -- that same respect will re-visit you. It's essentially a mechanical truism of the universe, and many historical, spiritual leaders have phrased it well: do as you'd be done by. Or, "do to others as you would have them do to you". Stated in negative form, "do not do to others what you would not like others to do to you."
Ethicists call this foundational rule for human interaction, "the ethic of reciprocity". Though Jesus is most often credited as the source of the statement, it is not unique to Christianity. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
But I digress.
One amelioration of the notion that respect has to be earned was offered me recently. Basically, the idea was put across that because respect is a thing to be earned, we should therefore strive to treat each other with respect.
This is far from true, and I cannot countenance such an idea, personally. Not least of why is because striving to treat each other with respect is a direct contradiction to making people earn respect. If respect cannot be given then we cannot treat each other with respect because we cannot treat each other to something we're not willing to give. And if the automatic moral assumption is that all people should be treated with respect, then that implies that all people are inherently worthy of respect. This would indicate then, that forcing others to earn from you (remember the banker?) what is naturally theirs to receive is a fundamental lack of respect for others.
Further to that, striving to do a thing is not at all the same as doing it. Striving is not attaining. In this sense, no-one should have to strive, or 'try' to give respect if they truly want to. Since respect is a recognition of the inherent dignity of yourself and others, it follows that placing your dignity in a vulnerable position with another is real respect. And that is something that can only be done; it cannot be strived for any more than a person can strive to be who they are. You either are who you are, or you're lying, or living under a lie somehow. You either meet the dignity of another person with your own personal dignity, or you don't. Striving to do so is kicking about on the fringes of actual respect, and is therefore disrespectful.
There is no sentiment that can acquit a person of the fact that respect absolutely must be given. No circumstance can alter this reality. Hanging your hat on the notion that respect has to be earned sets you in a position that no-one has the right to occupy: a dictate over others inherent dignity. What kind of respect is it to assume a place of control over another's personal dignity? It isn't. In reality, it's the ultimate form of disrespect.